San Miguel coach Leo Austria sees Barangay Ginebra San Miguel as the biggest threat to the Beermen’s quest for a fourth straight PBA Philippine Cup championship while expecting the NLEX Road Warriors to make surprises in the season-opening tournament which tips off on Dec. 17.
Austria said the twin tower combination of Greg Slaughter and Japeth Aguilar is Ginebra’s main weapon as veteran mentor Tim Cone will have the luxury of utilizing both players after their partnership produced a second straight Governors’ Cup championship last season.
“We all saw what they can do playing together – it’s a match up problem I think even for us because they have two tall guys who are capable of dominating the game. Ginebra will be very tough to beat,” said Austria.
“They have the tools to limit June Mar Fajardo,” added Austria of his 6-foot-10 center who captured a record-tying fourth Most Valuable Player award.
SMB defeated Ginebra in five games of their best-of-seven showdown in last season’s all-Filipino conference, although the Kings were without the 7-foot center Slaughter, who was recovering then from ACL injury.
Slaughter returned in the Governors’ Cup and was a big factor in Ginebra’s campaign, winning the tournament’s Best Player of the Conference (BPC) and was a vital cog in the Kings’ championship run against the Meralco Bolts.
SMB solidified its own frontline as it tabbed Christian Standhardinger in last month’s PBA Rookie Draft, but the 6-foot-8 Filipino-German will miss the first five months of the season since he is under contract with Hong Kong Eastern of the ASEAN Basketball League.
With the long-haired Standhardinger out, Austria will continue to rely on Fajardo, as well as the mainstays of San Miguel in former MVP Arwind Santos, Chris Ross and Alex Cabagnot – all members of the PBA Mythical First team together with Aguilar.
However, it’s not just Ginebra that Austria is wary about.
NLEX, he said, has the materials now to compete against the top teams in the PBA especially with the arrival of rookie guard Kiefer Ravena, who is expected to make an immediate impact at the backcourt of the Road Warriors.
“NLEX still has Asi Taulava and Rabah Al-Hussaini – both can match up with June Mar. But adding a talented player in Kiefer, malaking bagay yun para sa kanila. Halos kumpleto na yung team na yun ng NLEX,” said Austria.
“We can’t really discount the other teams, naglakasan naman lahat e. All the other teams, they’re preparing very hard and their goal is to topple us as Philippine Cup champion. Kami naman talaga ang target,” he added.
Austria said he always reminds his team every practice not to be complacent, which could be their downfall once they think that things will be easy after winning three consecutive Philippine Cup titles.